Bartenders Without Booze

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 15, 2015

A few months ago, I listened to a guy tell a great story in a barn. He told the listening crowd that as a younger man, he had been an aspiring writer who took a job as a bartender at a fancy restaurant. He liked the idea of being a bartender because, unlike the busy wait staff, he envisioned having time to connect with patrons while polishing glasses, looking wise, and dealing out “life-changing pearls of wisdom” at just the right time. (He did get his chance to do all of that, but that’s his story to tell.)

I was reminded of that story recently when a bookseller pal joked that it should be illegal for customers to try to force merchants to talk about politics or to be sounding boards for their emotional challenges. It’s pretty tough to avoid politics altogether, especially when our own fab Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, is in the running for President, and it’s true that sometimes we can feel trapped behind the counter, unable to attend to some of our pressing work when a customer is holding forth. But we also get a lot out of those exchanges; they make our retail endeavors deeper and richer than a simple exchange of goods.
When you pare away everything else, we humans are our stories and our connections with others. So it’s not a surprise that bookstores—spaces dedicated to stories shared on paper—are destinations to share our own stories.
We see families through crises with books and hugs and listening ears, and customers do the same for us (with baked goods replacing books) when we go through ours. We hear about people’s exciting and scary career changes, their children’s challenges, their experiences with local schools, their accomplishments and relationships and new pets and old loves. We hear a lot of stories, and it feels almost like a sacred trust they put in us.
Not every patron at the bar tells a story, and not every bookstore exchange is a personal one. And that’s a good thing, or we’d never get anything else done. But it’s an honor to be a welcoming place for so many, many stories.
So here’s to bartending, with or without booze. À votre santé!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *